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The cultural significance of elves in northern European balladry

Taylor, Lynda (2014) The cultural significance of elves in northern European balladry. PhD thesis, University of Leeds.

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The focus of this thesis is the supernatural ballads of northern Europe and, in particular, how we can understand a society through its literature. I take as my initial focus the ballads of Denmark (Chapters 2, 4, 5, 6), where supernatural beings of the elf-type are common, before proceeding to the wider northern-European context of Sweden (Chapters 3, 4, 5, 6), Iceland (Chapter 3 and 6), Germany (Chapter 3) and Scotland (Chapters 3 and 7), ranging from the earliest extant text of 1550 through to the nineteenth century to examine synchronic and diachronic changes and what they reveal of the cultures which produced them. This study considers the ballad as pleasing and satisfying literature which does not exist in a cultural or historical vacuum. Close, comparative reading of the texts moves us towards an understanding of how the supernatural was used as a vehicle for considering identity and man’s place in the world. The study analyses the recurring use of the supernatural ballads to establish social and national identities and to express ideologies concerned with gender and patriarchy. The supernatural ballads demand that we look critically at our attitudes, perspectives, and assumptions. As well as examining the main concerns and motifs of the ballad versions, the thesis seeks to problematize our initial assumptions by re-examining the traditional readings and by looking at examples of non-traditional versions. Responses to the ballad stories from both high and low culture serve as a lens through which to analyse the ballads, so Virgil’s consideration of the tale of Orpheus and Eurydice is examined along with Ibsen’s own dramatic version of the Agnete story, and Matthew Arnold’s poem on the same text. This thesis also seeks to examine in what ways women are characterized in terms of their relation to men in a genre largely transmitted by women, in the early ballad and in the nineteenth century, to examine tentatively if there is evidence of women seizing the narrative in order to disrupt the dominant discourse.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Academic Units: The University of Leeds > Faculty of Arts, Humanities and Cultures (Leeds) > School of English (Leeds)
Identification Number/EthosID: uk.bl.ethos.644983
Depositing User: Dr. Lynda Taylor
Date Deposited: 27 Apr 2015 10:41
Last Modified: 25 Nov 2015 13:48
URI: http://etheses.whiterose.ac.uk/id/eprint/8759

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